LSU students design, construct LaHouse Mobile for community awareness

A group of four senior biological engineering students decided to tackle an unlikely venture as their senior design project – designing and building a mobile version of LSU AgCenter's LaHouse.

LaHouseClaudette Reichel, professor and extension Housing Specialist and director of LaHouse Resource Center, believes that life-size, walk-though exhibits are powerful educational tools.
Jim Zietz/University Relations

LaHouseStudents were tasked with meeting a series of design requirements including reaching 120 mph wind resistance.

LaHouseLaHouse Mobile also employs solar energy capabilities and meets highway safety standards.

LaHouseThe challenges of making LaHouse Mobile taught the students valuable real-world lessons.

Nestled on seven acres on Gourrier Avenue, LaHouse Home and Landscape Resource Center, an LSU AgCenter – Louisiana Extension Service program, is a permanent showcase house that addresses challenges commonly associated with the Gulf South area, such as energy independence, hurricane and flood preparation, barriers to technology transfer and countermeasures against warm humid climates.

Because the showcase is stationary, LaHouse is limited in reaching the public on efficient and safe building practices. So, faculty and staff challenged Ari Deitch, Kevin Holly, Czarina Patolilic and Andrew Taylor to make a mobile LaHouse a reality. Supported by grants from the LSU AgCenter and College of Agriculture, the team was charged with constructing a mobile house that could travel across the Gulf South region to educate homeowners and builders about ways to build or remodel their homes to be safer, more efficient and environmentally friendly.

"A life-size, tangible, walk-though exhibit is such a powerful educational tool and ‘attraction'," said Claudette Reichel, professor and extension Housing Specialist and director of LaHouse Resource Center. "On top of that, the ability to take it to community attraction events offers tremendous outreach potential. This was all made possible by this team of incredibly dedicated LSU BAE students. I know they bit off much more than they had anticipated but stuck it out with exceptional fortitude and passion for its purpose."

The students were asked to meet a series of design requirements including: using advanced framing in a new construction segment displaying typical construction and to illustrate retrofit options in another section, inserting hurricane connections to achieve 120 mph wind resistance, building insulation displays, using class H shingles suitable to sustain high wind speeds, employing solar energy capabilities and meeting highway safety standards.

In addition, the group also had to meet measurable objectives including: maneuverability, structural stability, education effectiveness and specific energy requirements.

Over the course of a year, the students constructed the mobile LaHouse to showcase options available to homeowners or contractors to improve a home or building's energy efficiency, durability, safety and environmental footprint either during new construction or during a remodel. 

With little construction experience and a large task in front of them, the students experienced challenges and roadblocks over the course of the project.

"Time was one of the biggest constraints for this ambitious project," Holly said. "The supplies required for each portion of the project needed to be delivered on time before the construction could begin. Schedules had to be organized and dates set aside for building. Labor hours always seemed to last longer than estimated throughout the project. In the end, I believe our team has learned a great deal about time management."

Patolilic's favorite part of the project, however, was the construction.

"My favorite part of the senior design project was the construction process and seeing it all come to life from drawings," Patolilic said.

For Holly, using and expanding his knowledge of the design software program was his favorite part.

"Designing plans and creating educational animations with Autodesk Inventor® was my favorite aspect of our senior design project," Holly said. "Using power tools during the construction phase of the project was quite enjoyable and would be a close second."

The challenges, however, taught each group member valuable real-world lessons.

"In terms of approaching future projects, I learned the importance of being constantly vigilant of foreseeable problems and being prepared in case of setbacks," Holly said.

Patolilic "learned how to adapt to and handle unexpected obstacles in the fabrication process. You realize that actual construction is nothing like creating in Inventor. You develop and improve your communication skills when working with the group, advisors, building experts, and engineers. Good communication skills are definitely essential when working on any project."

Despite the challenges and setbacks, the group remained focused on the community benefit of their project.

"The students tackled this project with verve and creativity," said Steven Hall, associate professor and graduate coordinator, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. "All Biological Engineering students participate in Senior Design projects, but this one was both physically bigger than most and more visible, both in the design and construction phase, as well as in the implementation phase, where the display has already been viewed by many."

Joshua Brown, an LSU civil engineering senior and student intern with LaHouse, has picked up where the BAE students left off after graduation and is implementing some enhancements to LaHouse Mobile.

LaHouse Mobile is part of a newly awarded federal grant to conduct a Southern Region Resilient Housing Campaign, an Extension educational outreach project that will include exhibiting it at public events across the Gulf Coast.  LaHouse Mobile will also spend part of the summer at 4-H camp providing building science and environmental learning activities for youth from throughout the state. And when not on the road, LaHouse Mobile will be an important supplemental exhibit of home retrofit solutions at LaHouse on campus.

"I hope that this project will encourage the community to invest in these new building technologies which are ultimately beneficial not only for their homes or buildings, but also for the environment and their safety," Patolilic said.

"Ultimately, this was both a great educational exercise for the students and an excellent outreach tool for sharing cutting edge construction and energy technologies with a broader audience," Hall said. "This has the potential to save homeowners and builders millions of dollars, and will have a positive impact on the environment too.  The synergy between engineering and extension (outreach) was enjoyable and is promising for the future."